TARGETING & ACQUISITION | Big challenges, big opportunities

CASL and Canada’s business list industry

 By Steve Slaunwhite


You’re a marketer, not a spammer. You want to continue to reach your target market via email, but – through no fault of your own – CASL issues have decimated your lists and made building, or rebuilding, a new email marketing infrastructure a costly, time-consuming headache.

What do you do?

Look no further than your old friends, the business list companies.

They don’t like spam either. In fact, many of Canada’s major players in the list business have long been committed to ethical, permission-based email marketing and follow the best practices diligently.

And yet, even the best of these companies have had to make major changes to comply with Canada’s tough new anti-spam legislation. They’ve had to overhaul databases, systems, practices and, in some cases, even their fundamental thinking in how email marketing should work.

But the effort has paid off. And that’s good news for marketers. Especially those who rely on email for lead-generation, traffic building, prospecting and just plain ol’ connecting with new prospects and customers.

By partnering with a reputable business list company that has done the heavy-lifting to become fully CASL-compliant, businesses and their marketers can continue to reach their target markets – safely and cost-effectively – via email.

Assuming, of course, they select the right business list company.


The bare-bones basics of CASL

For those who need a quick primer, CASL is the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation that came into force July 1st. It covers not only email but also texts, social media direct messages and any other type of electronic message that “encourages participation in commercial activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit.”

You can learn more at the Government of Canada’s CASL information site here:

The biggest shift in the law is the focus on consent. With a few exceptions, you have to have the consent of the recipient in order to send that person an email. The CASL legislation describes two types of consent – expressed and implied – and neither are as easy to determine as they may at first seem. Do you have expressed consent because a subscriber opted in to receive your email alerts years ago? Only under certain conditions. Do you have implied consent when people give you their business cards while visiting your trade show booth? Again, only under certain conditions.

No guessing is allowed. You’ve got to know.

And even when you are confident that consent (implied or expressed) exists, you’ve got to be prepared to prove it. “That means,” says Randall Craig, an online marketing expert and CEO of 108 Ideaspace, “you need to have a system to document consent and track the relationship.” So the mental PostIt® note that every marketer should have stuck to their cerebrum these days is: Do I have consent? Can I prove it? If not, I can’t send it.

In fact, emailing may not be the best word to use anymore. CASL-compliant emailing is now the more appropriate moniker.

CASL also dictates how emails need to be structured. The FROM field must clearly identify the sender, or the person on whose behalf the email is being sent, with no trickery. There needs to be adequate sender contact information that is valid for 60 days after the email is sent. And, of course, the old rule of having an obvious, functional unsubscribe mechanism still applies.

Big, scary fines

These structural requirements may seem simple. But what if there’s a technical glitch and the unsubscribe link doesn’t work? Or the sender leaves your company within 60 days of an email campaign? CASL basically says, “That’s your problem.”

And most marketers have already heard about the big, scary fines for non-compliance. Individuals can face penalties of up to $1 million dollars. For businesses that amount is much higher. (But don’t worry. The most your company can get hit with is a $10 million fine. Per violation.)  Beginning 2017, you can also be sued by someone who receives your emails and claims they didn’t give you consent.

Of course, the government isn’t completely insensitive to the plight of marketers. There are several exceptions to CASL rules as well as an arguably generous transition period. You can learn more at the website noted earlier.

It is because of these hoops that marketers are now having to perform summersaults just to go through them. Even more interesting is the increased importance the reputable business list companies have today over the past few years.

The CASL compliance marathon

Vesna Moore, Director of Circulation for Business Information Group, manages a subscriber database of more than 750,000 subscribers representing dozens of industries and business sectors. “”We’ve always been good corporate citizens when it came to the best practices of email marketing. We always send relevant information. We respect unsubscribe requests. We almost never get complaints.”

For Moore and her team, CASL was a pain but also an opportunity. They spent untold hours consulting with lawyers to understand the legislation and invested even more time in making the necessary changes to ensure compliance. “There was a lot of redesign and programming work done on the backend,” says Moore. They also conducted staff training so that everyone is up-to-speed on the new standards.

However, Moore didn’t settle for mere compliance. She took the opportunity to up her company’s email marketing game in many areas. “Since we were overhauling things anyway, we decided to make several improvements, both internally and from a customer experience standpoint.” As a result, they’re not just rock-solid when it comes to CASL-compliance, they’re also better at what they do overall.

Her recommendation for others taking the same journey? “You need to find the right people; those who really understand your business as well as understand the CASL legislation, from lawyers to programmers and more.”

Selecting the right business list partner

So for marketers who want to work with a business list company, what do they need to look for?

Obviously, you must ensure the list company you’re considering is CASL-compliant. That means you need to become familiar with the legislation so you can ask the right questions:

  • How do you document consent?
  • How do you structure your emails?
  • How do you handle unsubscribe requests?


But more than that, you need to check that the business list company you plan to work with – and, in a real way, stake your company’s reputation on – had an attitude of ethical emailing. How do you find that out? Look at the way they’ve handled email marketing before CASL joined in on the fun. As Moore says, “We’re really not doing anything different. We’ve always respected our subscribers and adhered to the best practices. And will continue to do so.”

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Lloydmedia, Inc is based in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is a multi-platform media company which delivers a total audience of more than 100,000 readers across four national magazines, three industry directories, and a range of events and online marketing.

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